'Living Legend' Thatcher plays a lonely role

SURROUNDED by more than 1,000 adoring fans, the wealthy, great and good of Dallas, Margaret Thatcher had never looked more alone.

As in comedy, timing in tragedy is everything. Yesterday, as Baroness Thatcher was lionised as a 'Living Legend' by the oil rich business community, the timing could hardly have been worse. She stood accused of allowing her son Mark to profit from arms dealing, her health seems to be abandoning her, and Mark's marriage was reportedly falling apart.

The engagement, a sterile, ordered interview, entitled a 'A Conversation With A Living Legend', had been booked two years ago as a way of raising funds for a Houston cancer hospital. There was no escape.

Lady Thatcher arrived looking as gaunt as she had been the day before at the Conservative Party conference. She refused to answer questions about the controversial Al Yamamah arms deal. Nor was there comment on newspaper reports that her son's wife, Diane, had asked for a divorce after hiring private detectives to record Mr Thatcher's alleged liaison with Sarah Clemence, the daughter of a wealthy property developer in London.

Police sealed off each end of the young Thatchers' road for a time, leading to expectations that Lady Thatcher would visit her grandchildren. But she didn't.

Instead, she was ushered into the cold vastness of the Loews Anatole Hotel where power-dressed men and painfully thin women awaited her arrival. It must have been one of her darkest days, but the Texans knew nothing of her trials.

Guests had paid between pounds 50 and pounds 10,000 for a seat to hear Lady Thatcher interviwed by Chip Moody, a local TV anchor man. 'We think she's wonderful,' said Tiffin Moody, Chip's daughter, who arrived carrying a copy of The Downing Street Years. 'She's so strong, such an inspiration to women everywhere.'

And she was strong, from the moment she arrived on stage through a set of mock iron gates. Not put off by the organisers' description of her as 'prime minister from 1987 to 1990', or by the chairman's anecdote about Enoch Powell, 'leader of the opposition', she gave a bravura performance: the Falklands, Libya, Bosnia, Gorbachev. She talked about everything but her son.

Three-quarters of an hour of classic Thatcherism earned a standing ovation worthy of a Tory party conference, and she left surrounded by security men and looking very much alone.

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